I thought it might be interesting to run through the process I am using for transcribing receipts in my upcoming ebooks with a single receipt. I picked an easier one with fairly modern spellings and legible handwriting to use as an example. It’s from the Wellcome Collection. Manuscript recipe book of Grace Carteret, 1st Countess Granville (1654-1744) (MS.8903)
I don’t include a lot of cookery receipts in my publications. However this candying method is one that was used for preserving items you might find in a physical (medicinal) receipt like fresh ginger, preserved nutmegs, mace avrils, or angelica stems. I feel like it is useful. Those of you who have read my other blog will recognize that this process is very similar to how I make my mixed peel.
Sugaring these foods before drying them helped to keep them from spoiling. Sugar is a humectant which means it binds water in a way that keeps harmful microorganisms present in the food from being able to access the water they need for replication. This helps to prevent or slow the growth of bacteria, molds, and yeast. The food industry today still dries fruits that contain a good deal of natural yeasts, like raisins, with sugar.
Sugar is undoubtedly better for preservation than honey, which is what Europeans would have been using before to make syrups and preserves. I know you have probably read a lot about sugar being a “status” symbol as the reason behind the upswing in its use. While in the noble homes of London statues made of sugar were built as ostentatious displays of wealth, the switch from honey to sugar for preservation in more modest households was likely one of practicality.
I think people who write things like this haven’t spent a lot of time preserving food. I know from experience that syrups made of honey are especially prone to fermentation, which is probably one of the reasons oxymels were popular in the before sugar times. Adding vinegar to the mix would help preserve them. It’s also why we have mead, so I am not complaining but I prefer to make my mead on purpose.
I personally use sugar in my kitchen for most things because I like to leave the bees alone to do their pollinating, and I work with a lot of vegan clients.
Below is what is called a semi-diplomatic transcription of this receipt. I’ve brought down the abbreviations but left everything else pretty much as it is. This is the way I choose to present the receipts in the original author’s voice before moving on.
To Drie Figgs
Take your figgs and boyle them in fair
water till they are verry tender, then take theire
weight in sugar,
scumm it clean divide it into
4 parts boyle 1 part to a thin syrrop, scumm it
clean, Prick your figgs full of holes, then putt them
into syrrop next morning take them out, And
putt in another part of the sugar, boyle it, &
scumme it clean, Then putt in the figgs again,
every day make the same addition tell all the sugar
be in, Then take them out, & lay them upon Glasses,
And searse some sugar on them & so dry them.
Now I will modernize it so you can use it if you like.
- Put a quantity of fresh figs in a pot and cover them with water. Simmer them until they are tender and drain them.
- Weigh them with the remaining liquid and then weigh out an equal amount of sugar. Divide the sugar into four equal amounts.
- Strain the figs, saving the cooking liquid. Put this liquid in a clean pot and put in one of your four parts of sugar. Simmer this into a syrup, skimming any foam that might come up off the top.
- In the meantime, take the figs and poke holes in them. I use a metal cake tester for this. Then put the figs in the syrup and let them sit overnight.
- The next morning, take the figs out and add another part of the sugar. Simmer this into a syrup. Put the figs in this syrup and let them sit overnight, again. Keep doing this until you have used all four parts of the sugar.
- Then take the figs out and lay them out to dry. Sift a bit of fine sugar over them. You will want to keep the syrupy cooking liquid. I am sure you will find uses for it. It’s amazing.
- I lay them out on my dehydrator trays and dehydrate them on the lowest setting for 24 hours, but you can just let them dry naturally at this point too.
- Store these in an airtight container because the sugar will absorb moisture from a humid environment.
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